Ask the Art Prof: What is a Gesture Drawing?


“What is a gesture drawing?”

A gesture drawing is basically a quick drawing that captures the essential gesture of a subject in its most distilled form. Gesture is everywhere, embodied in every object, person, and place. It is action, emotion, movement, and expression all rolled together into one cohesive motion. Through gesture, your drawing can transform into anything from ferocious to quiet.

In drawing, gesture represents the primal instinct, the essential character of the subject.  As a form of expression, an initial gesture drawing is critical to every drawing. Without a sense of gesture, drawings become sterile and static.  Drawings lacking gesture become dull and mechanical.  Instilled with gesture, a drawing is able to communicate emotion and expression in a concentrated manner that is visually compelling. Through gesture, the essential character and emotion of any given subject can be effectively communicated.

Gesture Drawing

A sense of fluidity is one of the key components of a successful gestural drawing. This is achieved when a drawing conveys a focused, single motion that allows the object to be perceived as a whole, rather than as a series of unrelated pieces.  Essentially, this brings together all of the parts and assembles them into a harmonious, cohesive statement.  Fluidity can be achieved in a number of different ways. The manner in which marks are created on the surface of the page can play a major role in attaining fluidity. Marks that continually flow and move into each other will tend to behave as a whole. An emphasis on the relationships of the big shapes, examining how they transition into each other can also be highly effective.


Student gesture drawing

4 steps on how to make a gesture drawing:

1) Start with very light, loose, and sketchy marks. 
Keep a sensitive touch with your drawing tool, initially drawing so lightly that you are barely making physical contact with the paper as you draw. Staying light will allow for more flexibility as you continue working on the drawing. Working without an eraser will also allow you to work more fluidly, continually move forward, and accept and deal with your mistakes, rather than backtracking all the time with an eraser.

2) Draw with one very light, continuous line that never leaves the surface of the paper.
Concentrate on seeing the whole shape all at once. This will allow you to work with more fluidity, as opposed to chopping up your marks into disconnected parts. Remember that your first lines will not be “right”, this initial stage is only about getting something on the paper at first. You have to draw it wrong before you can draw it right.

3) Focus the drawing on first blocking in the largest shapes.  
Eventually move consecutively towards medium and small shapes. Leave out the details in these early stages of the drawing and concentrate solely on the big shapes. Look for how one large shape transition into each other, and stay focused on the relationships between these shapes.

4) Engage with the entire image all at once.
All areas of the drawing need to be given equal treatment and attention. Don’t allow for one area to be ignored or for another to be finished before the others. All of the parts of the drawing should be developed at the same level of completion at all times. Keep your eye alert and active while physically moving your hand around the page.

This charcoal drawing tutorial I did on the Art Prof Youtube channel shows the entire process of creating a portrait drawing in charcoal from direct observation. (see below) The initial part of sketching in this drawing seen in this tutorial follows the basic principles of gesture drawing. I wrote this article which provides detailed explanations of the numerous tools needed to make charcoal drawings.

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Portfolio Video Critiques for Art Students & Artists
Prof Clara Lieu offers 30 minute video critiques on 8-20 artworks for students working on a portfolio for art school admission, and for artists of any age working on their artwork. Watch a sample below, and get more info here.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories, and post select submissions on our Instagram  and other sites throughout the month. Use #artprofwip and Prof Clara Lieu might just stop by and give you some feedback! We have a special prize for art teachers who assign the Art Dare to one of their classes. More info is here.

Ask the Art Prof Live was a weekly live video broadcast on our Facebook page where Prof Clara Lieu provided professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015.  See the full archive of columns here. Prof Lieu discussed being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more.

Related Videos
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist:  Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks

Related articles
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“How can I draw what I see in my head?”
“What is the best way to practice my drawing skills?”
“How do you get yourself to practice drawing?”
“What is the most important mindset a student needs to have in order to create a successful drawing?”

4 thoughts on “Ask the Art Prof: What is a Gesture Drawing?

  1. Pingback: Drawing Figures

  2. Pingback: Dance movements and life drawing |

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